Tribal member documenting Lummi 9/11 Healing Pole trek

09.14.2011 Dean Rhodes People

Tribal member Brent Merrill is producing video and still photography for the Lummi Nation's 10th anniversary Healing Pole journey across the nation that will commemorate the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil.

Merrill also is serving as the project's media liaison.

"My role is to film everything and shoot still photography along the journey as well as to be a liaison to the media who will attend and cover each blessing ceremony along the way," he said.

"He's the man," said Kurt Russo, director of the Native American Land Conservancy, the group organizing this latest totem pole journey. "We searched high and low for a Native journalist and someone handy with a camera. We did a national search, and selected Brent because of his experience, his passion and, obviously, his ability as a journalist."

Russo also directed the last healing pole excursions for the Lummi Nation.

Ten years ago, the Lummis, located in the far Northwest corner of Washington state, sent three healing poles carved by master carver and Lummi Elder Jewell Praying Wolf James and his House of Tears carvers across the country to honor the fallen of 9/11 and to help the healing process for those who survived.

For the 10th anniversary of the event, Jewell and his carvers created another pole, this one 20-feet high. On Monday, Sept. 12, the Healing Pole Journey 2011 began with the first blessing ceremony at Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, Wash.

The pole will travel from there to the Seattle Center and then across the country through Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Minnesota and other stops on the way to New York City, where on Sept. 30 the Lummis will hold a ceremony with the families of 9/11 victims at Arrow Park. Merrill's photography will be on display there.

The pole will be blessed by 12 different Tribes along the way.

The project is funded by Bethesda, Md.-based National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, and on Oct. 5 the pole will be raised at its final stop on the journey, a healing garden at the National Institutes of Health.

"It will be part of an exhibit that will display Native peoples' concepts of health and illness," Russo said.

"This is a trip of a lifetime for me," said Merrill, who is a former editor of Smoke Signals. "I'm honored to be asked to do this. I'm super stoked to be a part of something so amazing."